Tuesday, June 19, 2012

IMO Cargo Group to Discuss Weighing Shipping Containers Laden with Freight

Overweight Boxes are a Safety and Security Problem
Shipping News Feature

WORLDWIDE – In January last year we told how the World Shipping Council (WSC) and the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) amongst others had pressed the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in December 2010 to set out regulations for the weighing of containers laden with freight as a safety measure both to protect staff and cargo and enhance security in the supply chain.

It is a sign of how slowly the powers that be work on these issues that once again a formal proposal, co-sponsored by a broad array of industry organizations, labour, and governments, to require loaded containers to be weighed to determine their actual weight will be considered by the IMO’s Subcommittee on Dangerous Goods, Solid Cargoes and Containers at its next meeting in September. Sponsors of the proposal include both the ICS and WSC plus BIMCO, the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the governments of the Netherlands, Denmark and the USA.

The SOLAS Convention currently requires the shipper (the cargo interest that loads its goods into the container) to provide an accurate container weight declaration, but this requirement is often not met, is not enforced by SOLAS parties, and there is no requirement to actually weigh a loaded container. To remedy the problem, the co-sponsors propose a legal requirement, not only that the shipper provides an accurate weight declaration, but that the port facility and the ship have a weight verification certificate obtained by weighing the container. This will ensure that the actual weight of all loaded containers is received prior to stowing the container onto a vessel for export.

All the organisations concerned are vociferous in their support of the proposed measures. Torben Skaanild, Secretary General of BIMCO which represents ship-owners controlling around 65 percent of the world’s tonnage, said:

“Misdeclared container weights are a recurring safety problem on shore, on ships, and on roadways. It is time to fix that problem. We are pleased that there is such a broad cross-section of industry and government agreement on a specific and effective remedy.”

The ITF represents a huge swathe of the world’s transport industry workers and Frank Leys, secretary of the ITF dockers section commented:

“The major players of the industry dealing with the handling of containers have chosen to make the transport of the 'box' even safer than before. The ITF, representing more than 4.6 million workers, welcomes this initiative and will continue to work for a safe, productive and sustainable transport industry.”

Dr. Geraldine Knatz, president of IAPH and executive director of the Port of Los Angeles naturally has a particular interest in the safety of workers within the port environment and she was unequivocal in her comments saying:

“For years, the United States has required all its export containers to be weighed. This has not impaired supply chain efficiency, and it has improved safety. The technology exists to weigh containers accurately and efficiently, and it should be a universal, required practice.”

Christopher Koch, president and CEO of the World Shipping Council and Peter Hinchliffe, Secretary General of ICS emphasised the importance of the IMO setting a standard ensure the verification of container weights. Additional information, including recent examples of incidents involving misdeclared container weights is available on the WSC site HERE.

Following our previous article London based Dunelm PR held a conference on the subject and pointed out that the WSC and ICS had been quick to illustrate the arguments for ending overweight boxes but added that there was a chance that the measures proposed could also assist in the prevention of terrorism if empty containers were also weighed. Their comments and the conference documents can be read HERE.

Hopefully the sheer political weight of the organisations involved in the latest proposal will persuade the IMO that immediate effective action is essential to save lives and property but, at a time of economic austerity, any additional costs proposed by the ports for weighing every container will be unwelcome. With the variety of equipment now available on the market to effect the process hopefully a one off investment will settle the matter and no substantial extra time will be required when handling the boxes if the weighing process is incorporated into the container transfer system.

If shippers are required to declare weights prior to export and the subsequent reweighing at the port finds a serious discrepancy it is a small matter to then levy the appropriate charge to the offending consignor for the time and inconvenience verifying the weight. Weighing empty containers will provide a different set of problems although labelling including tare weights is already compulsory.

Photo: Overstowage with incorrectly declared container weights can lead to disaster.